Thursday, March 28, 2019

Back to the Moon: A Novel - My crystal ball account of the future which is now today

I wrote Back to the Moon: A Novel in 1998 and it was published by Delacorte/Random House in 1999.

This is a portion of the final chapter. Although SSTO hasn't happened, I think there's at least some similarity to what is happening today. Moondog is very similar to Falcon Heavy. Big Dog could be the BFR. Jack Medaris could be that fellow from PayPal. My crystal ball wasn't entirely clear twenty plus years ago but it wasn't so cloudy, either.

Back to the Moon is also Vice President Pence's favorite space book. He read it when it first came out. Maybe it influenced him a little, I wouldn't know.

"Yes, Mr. Vice President, I think Jack Medaris and Penny High Eagle got married..."


Back to the Cape
It was a perfect day for a launch. The Cape sparkled in golden light as the sun peeked above the dark blue horizon, illuminating a single white puffy cloud hanging high in the sky. The crowd of dignitaries stood at the base of pad 39-B and admired the rocket sitting on its own squared-off base. It looked larger than it was because it sat by itself on the concrete pad. The gigantic towers of the shuttle era were gone. Only a small portable gantry, now rolled back, was needed for this machine, the first of the operational single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) fleet fielded in three years of intensive effort and remarkable economy.
     A siren wailed and the crowd tensed. Launch was imminent. A loudspeaker crackled beside the stands. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Medaris Engineering Company's Single Stage to Orbit vehicle, Moondog!"
     Flames immediately erupted at the base of the rocket and it powered smoothly off the pad, swept up into the sky and disappeared within seconds. A thin cloud of water vapor, its only residue, hung in the air and then began to disperse in the light winds. The crowd oohed and ahhed appropriately and applauded enthusiastically. The doors on a concrete hangar beside the pad opened and a rail car, carrying another Moondog SSTO, crept out and started trundling toward the pad. "The second Moondog will be erected and ready for launch in thirty minutes," the woman over the loudspeaker said. "Powerful, safe, and economical, Moondogs are available for immediate lease. Terms are available."
     Jack Medaris shook some hands, stepped down from the viewing platform. He looked with pride at his accomplishment, the Moondog reusable SSTO. His company had gone public and accomplished the design and construction of the Moondog using funds from the sale of its stock. In effect, a vast number of Americans had decided to risk their capital on Medaris's enterprise A cluster of five Big Dog engines provided the boost to get the composite aerodynamic shell and the heavy cargo aboard a Moondog into orbit. Once there and its payloads deployed, a Moondog automatically reentered and landed back at the Cape or wherever it was ordered, tail-first. A quick once-over and refueling and she was ready to go again. After a few more test flights, the Federal Aviation Administration was scheduled to clear Moondogs to be launched from anywhere in the United States. Jack's plan was to keep a fleet of six of them at the Cape to take advantage of the trained work force there.

    Since Medaris's audacious trip to the moon, there had been many changes at NASA. NASA had gotten out of the operations business and moved into the forefront of research and development, handing over its scientific and engineering knowledge to American commercial space operators. With the data it had gained from the shuttle tests, the agency already had a prototype scram-jet that could fly into orbit from Edwards Air Force Base, deposit a payload, and return. NASA fielded the prototype for a half-billion dollars, ten times less than the original estimate. That estimate had been made before MEC, by taking Columbia to the moon, had demonstrated what could be done with a little money and a lot of engineering guts. The scram-jet looked good, and the older and larger aerospace companies around the world waited eagerly to get their hands on it. But Jack was convinced his Moondog design would beat the scram in head-to-head competition.      Or perhaps there might be room for more than one SSTO spacecraft. The commercial markets that had opened up since his moon flight were going to be too big for a single enterprise. It was as if that flight had opened some sort of mental floodgate. The possibility that so much could be done if the will was there to do it was energizing not only to the aerospace field but in all the scientific and even political disciplines. There were new starts everywhere. Anything was possible. And it didn't have to break the bank to do it.
     Medaris watched the group of VIP's, all potential customers, excitedly watch the erection of the second Moondog. With cheap access to space just on the horizon, commercial enterprises were making plans to produce a great number of products in space - new materials, new medicines, and new concepts such as tourism, space sports, and even homesteading. Jack intended that MEC would be able to provide the transportation to space they required.  Industrial Orbital Facility, Inc., a private joint Japanese-American company that had taken over the old International Space Station, announced that it would launch a new man-tended laboratory the following year aboard an improved Japanese H-2D booster. Competitive bids were being taken from the clamoring companies for room aboard the module. There was renewed hope among people paralyzed by spinal cord trauma and disease that space research would deliver a cure.
     There were mining outfits represented by the men and women filing into the stand to observe the launch. The interest in helium-3 had quickly reached fever pitch as soon as Dr. Perlman had come up into the bright sunlight of the Montana summer. Using the thirty kilos of beads found at Shorty crater and rescued from the Cayman trench, Perlman had demonstrated the full power of his plant. Montana Power & Light was working overtime to string in lines to it for commercial use. Energy companies the world over were flocking to the United States to learn more. The President of the United States, a year after Columbia's landing, agreed to make the technology of fusion power available to the world. Helium-3 had became the new gold of the solar system and mining companies were lining up to dig it out.
     There were government officials from several countries observing Jack's Moondog flight. The moon treaties of a previous era had been revoked and governments across the earth had staked out claims. The United States and Russia made the first, based on their landings there, but other nations - England, Germany, France, Brazil, India, Japan, China, even Portugal recalling a past history of exploration and colonization - asked for and received territory set aside on the moon. An international agency was organized at the United Nations to act as an arbiter of the claims. If the land wasn't secured by a crewed landing within twenty years, it would be auctioned to the highest bidder with the proceeds going into an international spaceflight general pool. Some people were already calling this as yet unnamed international agency by a familiar name: Star Fleet.
     Jack knew his company was in a good position to take commercial advantage of both the commercial and political activities. A Moondog could carry a Big Dog aloft and place it into a parking orbit. All a nation or a company needed to do was to put its mooncraft in orbit, dock with the Big Dog, and then use it to reach escape velocity. There was a great land rush coming a quarter of a million miles away from earth across the Armstrong Sea...


And what began with Back to the Moon was continued with my Crater Trueblood/Helium-3 series that envisions what life on the moon will be like a hundred years from now. Even though they're illegal, there will be gillies.  Go here if you want to catch up with the future: